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Miriam Handke signed up to volunteer at Elmhurst Hospital in 1957, at the urging of a friend.
The friend thought the opportunity would help Handke work through the loss of her husband, who passed away a year earlier, leaving her a widow with an 8-year-old son.
Now, 61 years later, Handke’s volunteer shift has become a way for her to help others who may need a dose of cheer or a comforting word.
Handke, 96, of Elmhurst, is still doing the same job she started with — delivering newspapers. When she started, she would offer papers for sale to patients and staff. Now she delivers stacks of papers to each department in the hospital.
Miriam Handke (center) poses with Elmhurst Hospital volunteers Joanne Gabert (left) and Maggie Foreman (right).
She’s there every Thursday morning, rain or shine, said Dee Panek, the hospital’s volunteer coordinator.
“Miriam is an inspiration and a role model for living a healthy-driven lifestyle. She is well rounded in all aspects of her life — spiritually, mentally and physically,” Panek said.
When asked for her secret to a long, healthy life, Handke said simply, “Well, I keep going. There’s always something.”
Walking has been the best exercise through the years, she said. She walks two miles through Elmhurst Hospital once a week, and plans to increase that mileage by walking the hospital on days she’s not volunteering.
“I walk the halls in my apartment building. I’m doing something all the time,” she said.
Her current regimen mirrors her younger self. She never started a formal exercise program, but was always moving — roller skating, swimming, biking, playing tennis, bowling.
Another key to Handke’s longevity: healthy eating. Handke, a diabetic, doesn’t load up on processed food or sugar. She keeps portions small and balances treats with healthy options. She often makes twice-baked potatoes at home and freezes them for herself.
“I don’t eat a lot of desserts — though I love them,” she said.
Miriam Handke holds up the pink pinafore she wore when she started volunteering at Elmhurst Hospital in 1957.
Volunteering at the hospital has provided a mental health benefit, too.
Handke still carries a 7-year-old thank-you note she received from a patient in her purse, the card tucked into a plastic sleeve to keep it from tearing.
The patient spoke briefly with her years ago when Handke offered to sell her a newspaper. The woman didn’t want a paper, but the conversation had an effect on her. It affected Handke, too.
“You never know if there’s something you say or something you do that touches a life,” Handke said.
The weekly tasks and her interactions at the hospital have helped her carry on through life’s ups and downs.
“It hasn’t been a completely smooth, no-problems life. But you have to say, ‘Okay, I’m going to go on and I’m not going to dwell in the past,’” she said. “I just keep going.”
Learn more about volunteering at Edward-Elmhurst Health.
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